A film’s first impression
Zooming in on how a movie’s initial release can influence success or failure.

Movies are portals that transport us into different realms of possibilities. Some are hailed as classics while others fly under the radar—a direct result of how successful their initial impression is to new eyes. There are films that generate high levels of hype before premiering and those that open ever-so silently; ones that use critical acclaim to their advantage and others that are not so lucky. These factors play a role in how a movie is shaped and seen by the masses, but the enjoyment of a film cannot be limited to these same factors.

Audiences can quickly tell when a studio is confident with the movie that they plan to release. The studio pulls out all the stops for the film’s marketing and advertises it anywhere they can. This, in turn, produces excitement for the film. It is this variable level of confidence that hurts movies in the long run and can make or break their chances of sticking with viewers after they open. Taking a look at studio A24’s slate in 2019, two of their films stand out to me: Midsommar, directed by Ari Aster, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco (TLBMISF), directed by Joe Talbot

On one hand, you could not go anywhere without hearing about Midsommar before its release. On the other hand, TLBMISF opened in select theatres and quietly exited the dim spotlight. This shows just how critical a company’s initial release strategy is for a film’s success. The underlying question here is which of these films is truly better than the other? This is obviously up for interpretation and the dismissal of either simply based on box-office success is wrong.

A film’s success is dependent on the positive reviews it receives. These reviews allow a film to garner attention from audiences all over the world, creating more exposure, similar to the goals of marketing. When films premiere and they receive negative reviews, the effect on general audiences is immeasurable; they get swept up in the negativity and refuse to generate their own opinion. 

As viewers, we cannot disregard a film just because there are select individuals who dislike it. If we take The Shining (1980) directed by Stanley Kubrick as an example, critics bashed the film in initial reviews. Looking at it now, however, the film is regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time. Taking the opinions of critics and declaring them as your own, without even giving the film a shot, enforces a dismissal of someone’s art.

The effort put into making films is too great to be dismissed solely for the success the film achieves, whether critically or commercially. A film’s enjoyment level does not strictly stem from popular approval but instead should be measured by how the viewer feels after it is over—no external reviewers to influence your decision and no opening-weekend hype to sway you. Film is a subjective medium. Let them sit with you. They provide us with the opportunity to escape from this world, so the least we can do is give them the time they deserve.

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